Study: Most seniors aren't talking about their driving ability

About 83 percent of older drivers say they’ve never spoken with a family member or physician about whether they should continue driving, a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study has found.

The study, released this week, is part of an effort by the nonprofit research organization to understand whether baby boomers, aging in an era of self-driving cars and other advanced technology, are behaving differently from past generations. The foundation surveyed 2,990 drivers ages 65 to 79 in Michigan, Maryland, New York, Colorado and California for its study.

In a news release, Amy Parmenter, spokeswoman for AAA in the greater Hartford area, said seniors outlive their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to 10 years.

“Due to their fragility, older drivers are at greater risk of death and injury if involved in a crash,” Parmenter said. “Having these conversations may be difficult but not as difficult as the alternative.”

Of the 17 percent of older drivers who reported having the conversation, 15 percent said it happened only after they crashed or got a ticket. A family member started the conversation 60 percent of the time.

Nationwide, 6,764 people ages 65 and older died in crashes in 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. Thirty-five of them died in Connecticut, the UConn Connecticut Crash Data Repository shows.

In Connecticut last year, the repository shows, 131 serious or fatal crashes involved senior drivers, with 36 involving drivers age 80 or older. Thirty-four of the drivers died.

Just last week, police said a 93-year-old woman turned left in front of a Southeast Area Transit District bus carrying 12 passengers on state Route 32 in Waterford. The bus dragged her Subaru “a short distance,” police said, and seriously injured the woman, who was taken to The William W. Backus Hospital and then Hartford Hospital.

Police, citing an ongoing investigation, didn’t release the report for the Aug. 9 crash or provide an update on the woman’s condition.

“The right time to stop driving varies for everyone,” said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “With early discussion and proper planning, elderly drivers may extend their time on the road.”

Many people view driving as a form of independence, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on its website, and can become defensive if someone talks about taking that independence away.

"So, be prepared with your observations and questions, and — if necessary — provide possible transportation alternatives," the administration said.

Parmenter said people who know aging drivers should start talking candidly before the drivers begin having trouble staying awake or in their lane.

AAA recommends having one-on-one conversations rather than inviting the whole family, which can be alienating, and working with the senior rather than telling him or her what to do.

“The best time to initiate this sensitive discussion is long before there’s a problem,” Parmenter said. “Planning for personal mobility to maximize independence is a win-win for older drivers, their families and everyone with whom they share the road.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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